OPD gets $50,000 grant to lower alcohol sales to minors

Oakland police and Alcoholic Beverage Control work to deter alcohol sales to minors in Oakland. Part of this effort involves conducting compliance checks at alcohol retailers.

Oakland police and Alcoholic Beverage Control work to deter alcohol sales to minors in Oakland. Part of this effort involves conducting compliance checks at alcohol retailers.

This summer, the Oakland Police Department received a $50,000 grant from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The money is to be used to curb alcohol-related crimes in Oakland.

The department’s first goal for using the grant, according to Public Information Officer Marco Marquez, is to “reduce illegal alcohol sales to minors.”

Officers will also work to keep Oaklanders up-to-date on the project, wrote Marquez in an email, and to “reduce the number of incidents of loitering.”

This grant was one of 52 awarded to law enforcement agencies by Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), John Carr, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an email.

According to Carr, Oakland’s grant, given July 1, will better equip police to deal with problem businesses at which one or many alcohol-related crimes are taking place such as underage drinking, service to people who are obviously intoxicated, loitering, noise, public drunkenness, fights or assaults.

“They get the opportunity to look at these things and make a determination about where they would like to put the resources,” said Carr, “and we will help them.”

The amount granted is based on the specific request made in the law enforcement agency’s proposal, but grants to individual agencies rarely exceed $100,000, Carr said. Applicants specify how they plan to use the money, and what they hope to accomplish.

Funding for the grants, said Carr, comes from license fees—money paid by businesses to ABC for licenses that permit the sale or service of alcohol.

Though Oakland police don’t work with Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) personnel to curb alcohol sales to minors, there are efforts to understand and deal with the issue by both organizations.

As the program manager of Tobacco Use and Prevention Education (TUPE), a youth development program that discourages alcohol and drug abuse, Robert Dousa collects data about the students of OUSD through a yearly anonymous survey taken in March. Last year, 17,000 students from 5th to 12th grade were surveyed.

“The data shows that more students are using off of campus than on,” said Dousa. He added that alcohol isn’t the “cool” substance to use—marijuana is. “It’s not socially acceptable to be drinking,” he said.

If kids are just experimenting with alcohol, Dousa said, program staff members tend to have good results helping them. “When students get in trouble at school,” said Dousa, “it’s usually because they’ve over-drank and have never drank before. Usually they’re remorseful.”

According to the data page of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “many youth may have easy access to alcohol.”

The page, which summarizes the results of several recent studies on underage drinking, states that kids frequently get alcohol from family, or find it in their homes, and that, “in 2015, among 12 to 14-year-olds who reported that they drank alcohol in the past month, 95.1 percent reported that they got it for free the last time they drank.”

Oakland police will work to deter alcohol sales to minors by “conducting undercover minor operations,” wrote Marquez in an email, and by “educating alcohol establishments.”

ABC isn’t the only organization granting money to Oakland police to deter alcohol-related crimes.

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), a state agency seeking to end traffic injuries and deaths, granted Oakland police $753,000 to aid in “alcohol and other traffic enforcement operations,” said Wayne Ziese, public information officer for the agency. Ziese said the agency expects a grant of similar size will be awarded to Oakland police for next year.

This grant is funding two full-time Driving Under the Influence (DUI) officers who work the late-night shift, usually over the weekend, and conduct traffic stops of drivers who are weaving in and out of traffic, speeding, driving too slowly, or otherwise showing signs that their driving may be impaired by alcohol, Ziese wrote in an email.

The grant is also allowing 20 officers to get standardized field sobriety training—teaching them to do field sobriety testing—and is sponsoring the training of six officers in ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement). “This gives a 16-hour course for the officers to better detect objective signs of drug impairment,” Ziese said.

The grant also funded DUI checkpoints and DUI “saturation patrols”— these are when multiple officers are sent to a place where there has been a high incidence of crashes and arrests involving alcohol, Ziese said.

At the end of a grant period, traffic safety officers hope to “see a change in the data that has been collected,” said Ziese, and that “the money has made a difference. If we see that it’s not making a difference, then we might look to fund newer programs, or different programs, that might address those issues.”

Though Ziese’s office funds California Alcoholic Beverage Control as well, the $50,000 awarded to Oakland police didn’t use any of the traffic agency’s money.

OTS currently funds “minor decoy” and “shoulder tap” compliance checks around California. The decoy operations “are compliance checks in which teenagers, under the direct supervision of police officers, attempt to purchase alcohol from retail licensees,” ABC spokesman Carr wrote in an email. The shoulder tap program, wrote Carr, “involves compliance checks for adults. ABC will cite adults who purchase alcohol for minors on or around ABC licensed businesses.” These checks use officer-supervised minors as well, Carr wrote, who “approach and ask patrons of stores, bars or restaurants to buy them alcohol.”

These checks “are done randomly to increase public safety,” said Carr. “They are also run when we receive complaints from the community.”

The goals of the “minor decoy” and “shoulder tap” compliance checks “are to increase public safety by reducing the number of licensees who sell alcohol to minors,” wrote Carr, and by cutting down on underage consumption of alcohol as well as binge drinking.

It makes sense to Dousa that Oakland police have partnered with ABC to take on these issues. When asked if he supports Oakland police officers’ use of compliance checks to deter alcohol sales to minors, Dousa pointed to a study published in 2014 by the journal Alcoholism.

“Compliance checks conducted by law enforcement agents can significantly reduce the likelihood of illegal alcohol sales to underage individuals,” the researchers for this study stated in their article.

Though Dousa doesn’t collect data about where kids buy their alcohol for the TUPE program’s survey, he said, “More access equals more use.”

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